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Seniorgram: Hidden hunger is all around us

Roseann MartocciaRoseann MartocciaThe term “hidden hunger” can be applied to the increasing number of older adults who live alone and aren't getting the food they need. In 2013, 2.9 million senior households (9 percent) experienced food insecurity, which means being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

While there are many reasons elders go without adequate amounts of food, hunger is not always visible. Many factors can contribute to hunger, including loneliness, isolation, depression, medication interactions, sensory changes, dementia, financial hardships, medication issues, and concern about what others think.

Persons living alone are twice as likely to experience hunger. Seniors living alone with health and mobility issues have a harder time cooking, preparing meals, and shopping, and they may not have enough money. Changing senses (e.g., fewer taste buds, decreased sense of smell, lessened ability to manage plates and utensils), disease, and poor dentition may also contribute to elders not eating well or enough. Older adults with dementia and/or memory loss may not remember to eat or be able to manage nutrition on their own. Food-insecure older adults are more likely than those who are food secure to be at higher risk for a number of diseases, a weakened immune system, increasing risk of infection, poor wound healing, and muscle weakness – which, in turn, leads to falls and fractures.

How can we each be alert and help elders who may not be eating well or enough?

Understand the impact of poor nutrition

Learn about how the body uses nutrition and the risks and consequences if you don't get what you need.

Notice changes

If you're a caregiver or a neighbor, check on older adults living alone and make sure they seem healthy, alert, and well-nourished. Look in the refrigerator and check the cupboards, look at food expiration dates, and take note of weight gains or losses and changes in appetite.

Explore resources for food

Meals on Wheels, meal preparation, or inviting a person to lunch may go a long way to helping a person with their nutrition and food expenses and improving their social connections. Don’t go it alone – coordinate friends and family by asking them to bring a meal once a week or once a month.

Explore financial resources

If money is an issue and an older adult needs help paying for food, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly monetary benefits for designated food items. Other resources that can also help stretch one’s food budget are the monthly “Brown Bag” of groceries or Senior Farmers’ Market Coupons.

Help out

Volunteer your time or donate to local organizations, such as Meals on Wheels, food banks, nonprofit organizations, senior centers, and churches.

It’s simple – be aware, visit and advocate for your neighbor.